Seminar: ‘Natural Born Fools’ in the Ancient World, CAHAE Department of the University of Manchester, 31 January 2020

Readers of H-Madness may be interested in the seminar entitled: ‘Natural Born Fools‘ in the Ancient World, organized by Christian Laes and Peter Pormann. It will be held at the Department of Classics, Ancient History, Archaeology and Egyptology at the University of Manchester.

The following is from the official announcement:  

This is an event discussing ancient evidence on what are sometimes defined ‘intellectual disabilities’. The various papers bring evidence from various areas of the ancient Mediterranean while engaging with theoretical aspects of disability studies.

On Friday the 31st of January 2020, a small group of invited scholars will unravel the last disability which has not yet extensively been dealt with for the ancient world: intellectual disabilities.

In the history of disabilities of the ancient world, intellectual disorder seems to have been left out as a ‘tricky subject’ for a very long time. It was Edgar Kellenberger who opened and broadened the discussion with publications on ‘Geistliche Behinderung’ from the Sumerian period over the Old and the New Testament up to early Christian times (in particular Saint Augustine). Irina Metzler’s seminal book Fools and Idiots? finally took up the challenge of dealing with cognitive disability in the Middle Ages. In a recent review (BMCR), Candida Moss praised the attempts in Christian Laes’ Disabilities and the Disabled in the Roman World to also deal with the thorny subject of intellectual disability.

It seems time for a one day focused seminar on the topic, bringing together the very few specialists all over the world who have dealt with the subject. Incurability will be a red thread throughout the papers. Did people in the ancient world acknowledge that some mental/intellectual conditions were not treatable, as they were innate and not subject to any change? Did such recognition lead to a categorisation that comes somehow close to a concept of permanent disability? Or were distinctions and borders vague, thereby making cognitive disability an almost intangible subject to deal with?

The participants will gather with ready papers, and the seminar will be organised for presenting and discussing these chapters, which will be published in a book volume – the first to systematically deal with the topic in the ancient world.

For more information on the provisional program, download the announcement here.

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